Apple Music Streaming: What It Means for the Independent Artist

By NationWide Source
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Yesterday, Apple unveiled its new music streaming service. While Apple’s release of iTunes revolutionized how the world buys music, they have been slow to enter the world of streaming.

The announcement came with all the bells and whistles that normally accompany Apple’s tech releases… but, for independent musicians, the announcement likely raises more questions than it answers.

The Basics

For the new service, Apple will charge $9.99 per month for streaming and radio services. Alternatively, users can choose a family plan (for up to six people) for $14.99 a month. Apple Music streaming will offer curated playlists, radio stations, complete integration with iTunes, and a new artist-to-fan social feature called Connect.

What Will It Pay?

Noticeably absent from all information offered by Apple is the amount that Apple Music will pay artists.

Unlike other streaming platforms, there is no free tier on Apple music. This is good news for the makers of music, as it should increase the amount of money paid to rights owners. However, if the payment structure looks anything like those of Spotify or Pandora, independent musicians will still be getting the smallest piece of a very small pie. The music streaming industry as a whole is not friendly to independent musicians.

It appears that Apple Music will not be much different, despite their claims in the announcement videos to help independent musicians build sustainable careers.

Will “Connect” Actually Connect Artists and Fans?

It seems that Apple Music is trying to compete with Jay Z’s Tidal by offering fans exclusive content at no extra cost. Actually, they are offering “exclusive” content at no cost at all. Anyone— even nonmembers of the streaming service—can access the videos, pictures, and music files that artists upload. This is not good news for independent musicians.

If you are working hard to create exclusive content for your diehard fans, you should be doing it in a way that creates income for you. (Ever heard of patronage?) By making Connect available to everyone, Apple completely negated the “exclusivity” of that content. In essence, it’s the same as putting a video up on YouTube. The key difference is that this content will link directly to your music and artist profile in Apple Music. It’s an important distinction, but it’s not enough. There’s no real way for your content to work for you on Connect.

Apple also did not address royalty payments on Connect. If you upload a demo of your new single, are you being paid whenever fans listen to that demo? Or are you cutting your losses? You spend the time creating a song and recording the demo—not to mention the money you spent on the equipment to do those things—and Apple hasn’t given any indication on whether or not they are going to pay you when fans listen to your “exclusive” content.

Connect also offers nothing new in terms of fan engagement. Fans can comment on the material you upload, and you can comment back. This is exactly what is offered on Facebook and Twitter. Connect is a downgrade when you look at its social media competition (Twitter and Facebook); even Spotify allows private messaging. The only benefit in Connect is that fans don’t have to follow you to see your content and comment on it.

Independent Friendly?

Did I mention that there is a MAJOR problem for independent musicians in the very structure of Apple’s Connect? As an independent artist myself, with music currently on iTunes, I decided to claim my Artist profile on Connect. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.49.00 AM

I am a fully independent artist with no management company or label. Normally, I would just submit my information the management information and leave the label portion blank, since I am not signed to any kind of label. However, there was no option to communicate that I was not affiliated at all with a record label. I was not able to push the submit button to claim my profile until I had entered information about my (nonexistent) record label.  If Apple is touting that their service is indie-friendly, requiring artists to enter their record label information in order to claim their profile is not the way to go about it.

So far, I have seen nothing about Apple Music that is truly attempting to help independent artists.

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Here’s some good news about streaming! BMI just won a lawsuit against Pandora. The royalty rate is 2%. Two percent of what? I don’t know but it’s more than they were getting paid. Of course, that’s money that goes to the writer and publisher…which is the party that BMI represents. I’ll bet they’ll (BMI) go after Spotify next!

Anytime a BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, etc, goes after big corporations it is a GOOD thing for us all! Unfortunately we do not the representation in the US Congress to stop these leeches once and for all. Sure, there are some good guys on our side BUT the vast majority of our Congress are going to side with big business due directly to campaign contributions! Funny how that works, huh!

One way around the issue of “labels” and management is to have yourself as manager (you already are, at least for most of us!) and your own label-indie artists have been doing exactly that for years! Further, it doesn’t take much effort to set all this up-one afternoon of brainstorming, google-searching, and having an artistically-inclined friend come up with a logo, and you now have a label… I am already doing just that (Blue Chihuahua Records is mine, after my dog) and if I can do it, I’m pretty sure most people can as well.

Streaming revenues most definitely suck, even after BMI’s win (2% of all revenues, IIRC) It might mean a few more pennies in my royalty statement, but not much more, and certainly not enough to make a living on. Our biggest problem though is not streaming, it’s the now-pervasive attitude that ALL music is free, ushered in by Napster back in the late 1990s, something that we still have not recovered from to this day…

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